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Friday, June 26, 2009

Today is my mom's birthday

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. . . and Father's Day was Sunday, so let me remember them with a photo of the three of us. I think it was the year I turned three, making it 1959. I am the youngest of their eight children. Being forty when I was born they were old enough to be my grandparents. In 8th grade that embarrassed me when my classmates' parents seemed half their age at our school open house. Then again, when I was in 8th grade nearly everything embarrassed me.

One thing that strikes me about the photo is our three distinct facial expressions.

My father's smile seems stagy - the pastor, the preacher, the performer who had to please everyone and was ever diplomatic. He is the only one looking away from the camera. Maybe a parishioner caught his eye, one of the poor he cared for so well. Or maybe one of my brothers was acting up. He had just preached his weekly sermon and was no doubt exhausted. (I recall him practicing his sermons Saturday nights pacing the long upstairs hall.) He slept Sunday afternoons, preached again Sunday night and rested on Mondays. You can't tell of course, but his hair was red, and his voice Virginian - soft, lilting Southern with grace. I love the way he said, Mrs. Culpepper: "Mrs. Culpeppah."

Believe it or not, I remember feeling grumpy on this Sunday, after church. No doubt I needed a nap after playing hard in the nursery. I was normally a happy child, but I distinctly remember willfully not smiling for the camera even though I was being urged to. And I've remembered it because it got embedded in my Christian-guilt-ridden brain's memory. Nowadays I joke that I felt grumpy because I had to go to church at all - let alone three times a week. I wonder if my photographer brother Bennett shot this with a Kodak Instamatic when he was about 11. Or it might have been shot by a church member. I do know that ivy was growing on the side of our brick church in Grand Ledge, and this seems like a special occasion - maybe Easter? But where are my siblings?

My mother's smile is a moonbeam -- look how beautiful she is in her goofy '50s perm and nerdy glasses. I saw a family movie of her when she was 12 - called "Bobbie" then, and she flashed this same triumphant smile under a straight shiny bob - as she bounced like a puppy around her staid parents. She leaped into being Best Athlete in all her schools, including college - playing field hockey, tennis, swimming and basketball. In this image of her I see a woman who is spent after playing piano for the church service, leading the choir, being the perfect pastor's wife and mother of eight, on her way home to put dinner for ten on the table. I remember having either roast beef or roast leg of lamb on Sundays, and peppermint candy ice cream with real chunks of hard candy for dessert with every place set perfectly (by us kids) with the fork, knife, spoon and napkin in their proper positions. But that was only until I spilt my milk - invariably - and everyone grabbed their tableware and placemats out of the white river, letting it drip between the table leaves. Then I ran from the table bawling with embarrassment and humiliation. Is it any wonder I am only now becoming a confident person? (Thank you, friends and family.)

My father died in 1995 at age 78, Mom died in 1997 when she was almost 80. Bennett the photographer died the year in between at age 47. Today Mom would be 93, and Sunday Bennett would be 61. I feel them acutely, as if birthday balloons are bobbing inside, urging me to smile.

71 comments:

amuse me said...

They are missed, but we are so lucky to have such rich memories of our parents and of growing up. Both of parents are now gone; my mother in 1996 and my dad just 4 years ago as of July 8. It is curious how my memories of growing up in Lansing become sharper as I grow older. Thank you for this wonderful post -- because it helped take me down my own memory lane. :) M

Jill of All Trades said...

Thanks for sharing. I love memory stuff.

Anet said...

This is a lovely post. Your mom's smile is wonderful, so warm.
You had me drooling at the peppermint ice cream!

Judy said...

It’s amazing to look at this picture and think your mom was age 43 with 8 children by then? AND she really looks so young and pretty, once you get by the old fashion glasses, hair and dress. (They were probably in style then) But they make her look like “an adult” person….. it’s weird how NOW age 43 sounds young and can look young today with the clothes, makeup and hair style.
You sound so much like me as a child!.... no wonder I’m drawn to your blog and often relate to your words!

VioletSky said...

What a week for memories.

...and you remember having that picture taken?? I can barely remember anything from that age, though I'm sure I was alive at three.

Be one with the Fro said...

Happy Birthday to your MOM! Its such a beautiful picture. I just love your mom's smile. She seems so happy and carefree. Your dad does look slightly distracted. And you look sooo CUTE! haha great picture, Ruth.

Have a marvelous and beautiful day!

Patricia said...

It is my mother's birthday today, as well. She died at 46 after having a hysterectomy leaving four children behind.

The Bug said...

I thought the same thing you said about your mom. I just skimmed by the hair & glasses - & then I was struck by the smile & looked a little more closely. Beautiful! And you were a cutie too...

dutchbaby said...

This is such an iconic photo of the fifties: your dress, your mother's glasses, hair and dress. All three of you are classically great looking. Your mother looks like she has great strength - with eight kids by age 43 she obviously does. Beautiful post, Ruth.

Annie said...

Such a lovely post (and interesting analysis ;-)). I adore old photos.

Pat said...

Thanks for a peek into your past. I love how you accented each person in the photos.

I group up in a family of 6 kids; my dad was a carpenter, my mom a housewife. She didn't work outside of the home till the youngest (my twin sister and I) were in high school. She baked every day and we had a hot meal on the table every night. Usually roast beef on Sundays. Both my parents are gone, too. Dad in 1995, 6 months shy of his 80th birthday, Mom in 2000, one month shy of her 81st birthday.

Thanks for the memories.

Oliag said...

Before I even read your post I was struck by the expressions in your family photo...how each was different and especially that of your mother's straighfoward, strong smile. I was rewarded by your explanations of each one!

Memory is surely linked with pictures...perhaps you wouldn't have remembered this day so vividly if you didn't have a photo of it...at least that is true for me...and that is one reason for my photoblog!

Esther Garvi said...

Your mother was beautiful! I love the smiles!

Babs-beetle said...

I was the second to youngest of seven children my parents had. A bit before you though. I was born in the late forties. Lovely photo!

Lover of Life/ Nancy said...

Your parents look like loving people. How lucky to have such a big family and parents that obviously loved you, even when grumpy. :-)

"Birthday balloons bobbing inside" - beautiful.

Susan said...

Happy birthday, dear Barbara, happy birthday to you!

Your mother is so beautiful, dear Ruthie, just as beautiful as her sweet, but pouty, daughter. You remind me of Lauren and how she doesn't want her picture taken.

We never stop missing our parents, do we, especially our mothers. I remember when my own mom died in 1987 at the age of 73, and I was 34. I felt like an orphan. My dad had passed away many years ago when I was 10.

I never understood why we had to go to church twice on Sunday. Did you have revivals, too? Every night for a week, until all the sinners were badgered into coming to the altar. Sigh. I did like the special singers though.

I wish you lots of bobbing birthday balloons for your mom and Bennett, and you dad, too.

ds said...

Happy birthday to your mom and brother. I love that 'moonbeam' smile; she looks just as strong and self-possessed there as in the "Small" photo you posted. You were such a cutie!! Sending you many bright and bouncy balloons.

lesleyanne said...

i love this post, i really do. i've been thinking about Grandma and Grandpa, and U.Bennett, a lot these days, as the wedding approaches. oh how i wish they could be here with us.

but i'm sure they will be. in the spirit of all the Harts that will be there. and through us.

i love you.

Claudia said...

This is such a beautiful and touching post... Your parents must have been exceptional people and the photo is charming. Old photographs of loved ones can stir up so many bittersweet memories and feelings...

CottageGirl said...

I love the enthusiastic, heart-felt smile on your beautiful mom's face. Even with all that was going on that day, she still was obviously very happy with life!
Great lesson!

rauf said...

Its not easy having all eyes focused on you Ruth. Being the youngest is tough, older brothers and sisters act as your parents too. But you get the best of everything. With all the pampering i wonder how you managed to remain slim. Now i see every one in your family is slim. Perhaps, next to God, health was at the top of priorities in your family. That is pretty good management by your mom.

Bob Johnson said...

Beautiful post Ruth, I was always grumpy after church too, my parents used to drop me off and pick me up, now wonder I was grumpy,lol.

Funny the things we remember with such clarity at an early age, I remember getting a bath in the kitchen sink when I was very little, don't ask me how I remember that when I can't remember what happened yesterday,lol.

Ruth said...

Marion, sharper and richer as time goes on, it's true. As Oliag said, maybe the photos enhance the memories. Sometimes I wonder if I am remembering a dream or a story someone told later on. But my sense of this scene is that I remember it and how it felt.

I think we are lucky to have grown up in mid-Michigan.

Ruth said...

Thanks for reading and commenting too, Jill. Stories are what connect us.

Ruth said...

Anet, yes, my mother's smile could melt anyone and anything, including peppermint ice cream. ;)

Ruth said...

Judy - it helps me to know there are other people out there like me. Hello!

Your comment reminds me of the first time I saw an old movie with young stylish Kate Hepburn wearing those "grandma shoes" I saw on old ladies growing up. I was stunned to realize they weren't old lady shoes but were young fashionable shoes at one point in time. Freaked me out!

Ruth said...

Sanna, after what happened Thursday I thought twice about posting this - I felt like everyone's heads would be elsewhere. But then I realized these are my "lost" loved ones - yet I hold them inside still.

I think the photo helps me remember, as Oliag said. But it is strange what the mind holds on to.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Tiffany. You would have loved my mom, everyone did. It was rare to see her downcast. She had a very positive nature.

Ruth said...

Remarkable, Patricia, that our mothers share a birthday.

What a devastation to your family that she died like that. I'm so sorry.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Bug. She was a stunning person, full of enthusiasm for people. I'm glad you can see it.

Moannie said...

Lovely post. So many memories stirred by an old photo.

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, It's true, at least it seems to be,People that we love and have lost seem closer to us on special occasions. Really enjoyed your story. Our parents worked hard to keep it all togehter.

Memories are so sacred and so much apart of our being. The older I get the dearer the memories become.

You are a cutie pie in the photo:)

Anna said...

Ruth dear what a beautiful and entertaining tribute to your mother, and father! And what a beautiful family, of 10. Wow there is 4 of us not including parents and we always had hard time to make the table for any time of the week, lol. Excellent, love the old pictures. Anna :)

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby - her life was very difficult early on in the marriage. They lived in the mountains, she did all the wash on a washboard, quite primitive. I never heard her complain - but I wasn't around in those days. One good thing about a big family is there is a lot of built in help. Her favorite motto was: Many hands make light work. And it was true.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Annie. A lot of emotions came flooding up after this post.

Ruth said...

Pat - we are of the same time and very similar historical details. We had no twins - I wonder what it was like having twins at the last. It's funny how routinized we all were at that time in white households of USA.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I've been thinking about your thought since posting this, and I think you're right. I might not remember this incident without the photo - I wonder. It is very important to document our stories. There are very very few photos of me as a child, and so those few have taken on greater importance for me. We took tons of pictures of our children, but now I wish we'd taken more videos.

Ruth said...

Esther - I can't get enough of people pictures, and I certainly don't have enough of my family growing up.

Ruth said...

Hi Babs - families were much bigger mid-century. Now my nephew has four children and that feels huge.

Ruth said...

Nancy - I am recognizing after time that they were very loving to us, I didn't recognize it at the time, thinking the church was the most important thing to them.

Ruth said...

You were young to lose your mother, Susie. It's like losing the umbrella over your head in a rainstorm.

I felt like we were in church all day Sundays. Thankfully many churches have stopped having evening services. The Wednesday night one almost killed me. We didn't really have revival meetings that I recall the way some churches did/do. I remember one guy who came for a week of meetings though, and he was awesome. He turned out to be Don's pastor in one of his many churches growing up.

Ann said...

Your mum and dad are angels looking down and saying what a good tribute you posted.

I have forgotten my mum's birthday, she died on the second day of the Chinese New year, we joked to make sure we don't forget her anniversary.

Funny, I had a grumpy pix too when I was about four years old.

have a good week.

Ann :)

Ruth said...

Thank you for the birthday balloons, DS - now it's Sunday and Bennett's birthday. He and I were especially fond of each other, and I really miss having him in the world.

Ruth said...

Wesrey - I know.

And now you've got me thinking about how we can remember them on that day - maybe not in the ceremony, but some symbol of their presence. I'm sure I can wear some of G'ma's jewelry . . .

I wore her bracelet yesterday at the reunion with her children's "heads" - front side with names, back side with birthdays.

Ruth said...

Claudia - I remember as a child seeing old sepia photographs of my Grandma Olive that she had drawn a big X over her own face with a fountain pen. Later I learned that she suffered from paranoia. A whole book could be written about Olive.

J.G. said...

What a wonderful picture! All the personalities are right out front, aren't they? So revealing. And your mom's smile is amazing.

My parents were "older" too, and my mom worked just as hard as my dad on the domestic front, creating the meals and the homemade ice cream, the pretty rooms and the family outings. Not much credit in those days, but we appreciate that work now that we are doing (some of) it ourselves.

Ruth said...

She was stoic, CottageGirl - I wish she also could have been guilt-free when she was tired and ornery, but she felt she had to rise above that.

Ruth said...

rauf - my father's metabolism was extraordinary, he never sat still. It's true of most of the rest of us too.

I remember after Sunday night church some one of the kids would make Mom and Dad root beer floats - root beer with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. No one else had one, which didn't seem strange to me at all, strangely enough. It must have been their way to treat themselves after a long day of service to the church. In those days hardly anyone was overweight I think.

Ruth said...

Hahaha, Bob, I love your humor. I don't remember a bath in the kitchen sink for myself, but I remember giving them to our kids - especially in the big old sink at the cottage. I was so worried their heads would knock on the faucet.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Moannie. I guess it's a case of one picture saying a lot of words - was it a thousand? I didn't count. :)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Cathy. The experiences of our lives shape us, and memories shape us too. Sometimes I wonder why we remember what we do, but photos definitely enhance the memory. All the more reason to keep taking and posting pictures.

Ruth said...

Anna, family size has changed a lot, now four is a big family. We always felt just right with one daughter and one son, but as we get older we wish we had a bigger family. Now I am looking forward to grandbabies.

Ruth said...

Ann, speaking of forgetting birthdays - I am pretty bad at it. But my mom remembered everyone's and anniversaries too. And she even had cards on our breakfast plates for Mother's Day ("I wouldn't be a mother if it weren't for you," she said) and Valentine's Day. I think she alone kept Hallmark going.

Ruth said...

J.G. - your birthday was the 26th too, yes? I think I read that right. Happy Birthday!

My dad was home a lot, he took care of some things in the house and outside. But I know our home was unusual that way. His study was upstairs.

renaye said...

i'm still young but i have already started to think what will my life be when my mother is gone. it's something i dont want to think about, often.

shoreacres said...

You surely never meant to evoke Jerry Brown with your post, but the combination of "moonbeam" and "goofy" brought the good Californian front and center!

Your family portrait is vintage 1950s for sure. I don't doubt for a minute you remember that experience, even without the photo.

My earliest memory is of a morning when I was still in my high chair, and mom discovered a mouse under the kitchen sink. I can describe every detail - the yellow and white kitchen, the scalloped wood detailing, the red-rimmed white enamel dishpan she put over the mouse, and even the time on the clock: 8:07 a.m.

Of course, I couldn't even talk at the time. But I kept the visual memory, and when I had language, I could put it into words. I have very few of those vivid memories, but I don't doubt their existence at all.

California Girl said...

Ruth: your family, your mother, so much I can identify with. I did not have seven siblings but my parents were a good fifteen years older than those of my friends causing me no small amount of embarrassment in grade school. By high school I did not care because they were not hip to my generation doing pot, etc and it kept me out of scrutiny. Mother was 36 and Father 41 when I was born. Mother died in 1997 on March 10, just before her 81st birthday. It astounds me to think she'd now be 94, which I do not think she'd have liked at all.

I don't know if your dad's smile is stagy or not but I think men in those days were uncomfortable in front of a camera.

Your three year old self, to me, seems mystified and, yes, a touch fussy about the photographer and pose. What a beautiful face.

I ache for my parents almost every day but in a good way. I do cry sometimes but for the most part I hear them speaking to me, I feel their presence. I feel it most acutely when I see or hear something that reminds me uniquely of them.

I'm sorry you lost your brother so young. I have one brother, always wanted to come from a large family. I always thought it would be a great comfort.

Arti said...

Ruth,

Thank you for a most moving post! What a great family, what a precious keepsake. God has blessed you with great parents... and yes, your Mom's smile just conveys how privileged you've been. I'm sure their greatness live on in their children. Roast beef or roast leg of lamb at a table of ten, all in the family: that's heavenly! (BTW, I'm almost of the same year as you.)

Peter said...

Although not smiling - or maybe because not smiling - you are the sweetest one!

Not easy to be the perfect parent (or child) but when I hear what you tell about your mother, I must be full of admiration! I'm sure she had the force to smile not only on photos!

Ruth said...

Renaye - as much as death is part of life, this is one cycle, very personal, that is very painful to anticipate. I'm thankful my parents lived long, full lives.

Ruth said...

Linda - all that without a photo!? Pretty amazing our brains are.

I have a high chair memory too: I tipped it back from the table with my feet and fell. Dad whisked me up because my lip was bleeding - teeth cut through my lower lip. I must have been younger than this photo, maybe 2. I guess it makes sense we remember the traumatic events like that.

Ruth said...

California Girl, your mom died 19 days before mine.

It's a very nice idea to talk with those who have passed. It's not something I've done with my parents. My friend Inge recently lost her mom, and that's what she misses - talking on the phone in Germany, so she has since begun talking with her (in heaven?).

Being from a large family for me means I have a lot of friends. They have pulled us through a lot of experiences, and we've done the same for them. With the upcoming wedding, I am astonished how much help we'll have for the next month. My sister is moving in with her daughter for one thing, paintbrush in hand!

Ruth said...

Arti - sometimes my mother drove me crazy, but I guess that comes with her job. One thing about that smile - she never wanted me to be unhappy, so she wanted me to jump to solutions too quickly. Sometimes you have to work things out, which takes time, and she didn't want that angst around.

Her ability to face every day with aplomb amazes me more with each passing year.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Peter - I can guarantee you would love my mother. I can see the two of you speaking French together. And her mother was Swedish (maiden name Nelson) to boot.

Nathalie said...

Ruth this post is another of the little wonders that you produce. The analysis of the photo is so full of sweet or pinpointed details it's a real adventure following you down memory lane. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

Nathalie said...

Your mum's smile is really what struck me in that photo. How could a mother of eight be so radiant? I find looking at her truly spirit-lifiting!

Ginnie said...

Very touching, Ruth! I thought of her often that day. The older I get, the more of a miracle she seems to me. And YOU? I see Lesley all over your face. HA! How did THAT happen! :)

photowannabe said...

I'm very touched by this post Ruth. Being the youngest in that large family must have put you in a difficult position. Its hard to feel you have to be perfect all the time. I like your independence to be pouty in this picture. Perhaps its the only thing you felt you had some control over. Gosh, that sounded preachy...sorry.
I love the strong, joyful smile of your Mom. I think she must have been comfortable in her own skin.

Ruth said...

Nathalie, we all find fault with our mothers. Maybe it's our innate need to survive and leave the nest. But as the years roll on I find more and more to admire in her. It was a treat to re-examine this photo and let her speak to me from her full life. Thank you for your visit, and congrats again on Blog of Note!

Ruth said...

Boots - oh yeah? Usually people think Lesley look like her dad. Lately I've been seeing Dad's mom in her, especially her profile.

Ruth said...

Hi, Sue - That's very nice, thank you. You make a good point about control! And that wasn't preachy. But I pretty much didn't have/take control of my life 99% of the time.

About whether my mom was comfortable in her own skin, hmmm, I think she didn't have a lot of freedom - I'll just say that.